TAMPA — Antoine Winfield Jr. had missed twice earlier in the game. On his third shot at an interception, he knew he had to have it when it counted most.
The Bucs safety had two previous chances to pick off Panthers quarterback Bryce Young on Sunday. Then, with just over two minutes to play, Tampa Bay leading by 3 and Carolina facing fourth and 1 from its 40-yard line, Winfield made a clutch interception to seal the 21-18 win.
Winfield’s pick, his second of the season, put a ribbon on a huge win for the Bucs (5-7). The victory over the last-place Panthers (1-11) snapped a two-game losing streak and kept Tampa Bay within a game of the first-place Falcons (6-6) in the NFC South.
Now, the Bucs feel like they are back in command of their fate.
“Huge,” Winfield said of the win. “The theme of this week was, ‘If we win, we’re in.’ So, we control our own destiny. We’ve just got to continue to win our games and it’s all there for us at the end.”
Winfield stepped up at the end of a long day for the defense, snatching the pass intended for Adam Thielen.
“I’m seeing the quarterback scramble out the pocket, so I just rotated with him,” Winfield said. “And I took a peek and I saw him point at the receiver to go further. So I know he’s going to throw the ball my way. I thought, ‘Oh, I gotta get this one.’ And, finally, I got it. So I just ended up catching the ball and making the play.”
The fourth-year defensive back out of Minnesota and son of 14-year NFL cornerback Antoine Winfield made a lot of big plays Sunday to lead a Bucs defense that was decimated by injuries. They started the game without linebackers Lavonte David, Devin White and SirVocea Dennis; as well as cornerback Jamel Dean.
“We’ve got great guys filling in right behind them,” Winfield said. “There’s one thing about our team — we have no drop off. So those guys came in and played a great game, even though our big dogs were out.”
Winfield, one of the big dogs healthy enough to play, made a difference in the game. In addition to the interception, he had a game-high eight tackles, including six unassisted, and a sack.
With the Panthers facing third and 2 from their 28-yard line early in the third quarter, Winfield got through the Carolina line and sacked Young for a loss of 9 yards, forcing a punt.
“I was just blitzing and had to beat the back, and I beat him and I made a move and I saw (Young) still had the ball,” Winfield said. “I just ended up tackling him and making the play.”
The sack was the second of the season for Winfield, who has become a consistent leader on Tampa Bay’s defense, head coach Todd Bowles said.
“He’s been great,” Bowles said. “He got a sack earlier. He can see the ball very well. I think leaving him back there this year instead of putting him at nickel has been great. We’re putting him down there some where he can make plays, but he’s starting to catch them. If he catches all the ones thrown to him, he’ll be great, and he caught one (Sunday). He makes play after play, week after week.”
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